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Council faces legal challenge over oil drilling decision

tCI Comment:

Legal challenges are always a nightmare for consultors, and the wise public authority is always alert to them. With the environment and ideas of a green recovery increasingly prominent in the public sphere challenges on the basis of environmental impact assessments and similar environmental factors look likely to continue to grow in number. We’ve already seen similar attempts to this in the multiple Heathrow airport and HS2 cases, where the courts have considered the EIA needs of major infrastructure projects. Knowing how to best avoid the risk of these challenges can be tricky, but the Institute is here to help. We will shortly be launching a new planning e-learning course, designed by our expert associate Penny Norton, which covers the major considerations planners should think about when preparing their projects.


Surrey County Council’s faces a legal challenge over the decision to allow 20 years of oil drilling and production near Gatwick Airport.

The legal challenge, which is brought about by local resident Sarah Finch and supported by the Weald Action Group will begin in the High Court today (November 17).

Lawyers on behalf of Sarah Finch will argue that the environmental assessment used as part of Surrey County Council’s decision-making process for the proposed oil development should have considered the full climate impacts in the context of the current climate emergency.

If the case is successful it could have wide-ranging implications for planning applications for other carbon-intense projects, and for projects which have environmental impacts which occur off-site or over a period of time.

The claim for judicial review is on the following grounds:

  • A failure to comply with the Environmental Impact Assessment Regulations because it failed to assess the indirect greenhouse gas impacts of the development from burning the oil to be produced and it failed to consider the UK’s Net Zero Target.
  • An error of law in interpreting the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and Minerals Planning Practice Guidance so as to permit the exclusion of an assessment of the downstream GHG emissions from the oil.

Sarah Finch said: ‘I believe the council’s decision to grant permission for more oil production at Horse Hill without considering the full climate impacts was wholly wrong.

‘The Prime Minister is right: there’s no time to waste on tackling the climate emergency. It is shocking that while the futures of our children and grandchildren are threatened, permission is still being granted for the production of fossil fuels, the very things fuelling the climate crisis.’

Friends of the Earth in-house lawyer, Katie de Kauwe, said: ‘It’s astonishing that Surrey County Council should declare a climate emergency in July 2019, and then give the go-ahead to 20 years of oil drilling a few months later. Government at all levels needs to wake up to the climate crisis, with actions and not just words. We maintain that this is a breach of the precautionary principle as these emissions are likely to have a significant effect on the environment – and if they’re not taken into account at this stage, they won’t be at all. This decision leaves a yawning gap in the environmental protection regime, which is extremely dangerous in the context of the climate crisis.’


Article originally appeared on Environment Journal.

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